Fifth Sunday of Lent
by Marjorie George
On my way to church every Sunday morning, I pass a high-end shopping mall and note the hundreds of cars in the parking lot. On Sunday morning! At 10:15! A friend says that as she drives along a highway to her church she passes soccer field after soccer field filled with kids and families. We have the same reaction: we want to stop and run up and down with a bullhorn shouting, “People, go to church. You don’t know what you’re missing.”
How do I tell them what they are missing? A community gathered, come together to worship God; a hungry people, come to be fed; a broken people, come to be restored; a joyful people, come to sing praises. Yes, but more than that – a community come to be transformed. That’s what happens in worship.
The psalms, of course, were the bedrock of the worshipping community of Hebrews. In Out of the Depths, the Psalms Speak for us Today, Bernhard Anderson observes that sometimes the Psalter is called “the hymnbook of the Second Temple,” chiefly because of its final composition during this time period (around 500 B.C.). Every psalm, regardless of its classification as lament or praise or something else, extols and glorifies God; it is fitting that they were and are an integral component of worship.
For the Hebrews, the psalms of worship were a connection point with God. Many psalms express longing to “behold the face of God,” that is, to ascend the holy hill and visit the temple where God is “enthroned on the praises of Israel.” They express a yeaning to be with God and God’s people.
Send forth your light and your truth, that they may lead me,
And bring me to your holy hill
And to your dwelling;
That I may go to the altar of God,
To the God of my joy and gladness;
And on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God. (43:3-4)
In various ways, the interpreters of Israel’s faith sought to explain the paradox that the Holy God, who is not part of our human world, becomes present to the people in worship.
And in that presence, we are transformed. St. Athanasius believed the psalms to be sacramental in nature because of their ability to effect change. Walter Brueggemann notes that “liturgical use of the psalms is more than hope . . . it is making the future momentarily present now.” In the liturgy, the reality of God’s rule is brought into the present and dramatically actualized. The thin line – the Celtic veil – is pierced, and we have a glimpse of the Kingdom in its fullness.
The Hebrew cry of “Ywhw reigns” carries a dynamic, eventful ring, echoed in the Easter acclamation of “Christ is risen; Alleluia.” When this unalterable truth is incorporated into the worship by the community gathered, the community is changed and individuals are transformed.
Oh, silly people, put down your shopping bags and your soccer balls. The Holy One, the Almighty God wants to give you the Kingdom. Dress rehearsals are showing at a community gathered in worship near you today.
The great Alleluia reverberates on the earth and through the heavens on Easter Sunday, April 24. The drama, the whole story of the redemption of God’s people, is enacted in the seven days preceding Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday, April 17. Clear some part of every day on your calendar now and commit to participating fully in Holy Week. You can find a church near you on the Diocese of West Texas website at www.dwtx.org.
Notes on the Psalms
The idea of making pilgrimages to God dates from before the time of David. Even when Israel was a loose federation of tribes, there was an expectation that people would gather periodically at the central sanctuary, first at Shechem, then at Shiloh. There were three “required” annual pilgrimages, all of which probably had been adapted from the Canaanite calendar, that coincided with the agricultural seasons and were an occasion for renewing the Israelite covenant with God. While the psalms were certainly used by families and individuals as well as in worship, there was an understanding that one’s relationship with God was as part of the worshipping community. The individual was related to God as a member of the covenant community and was expected to participate in corporate worship. (From Out of the Depths, The Psalms Speak for Us Today, Bernhard Anderson with Steve Bishop.)